I booked tonight at the O2, way back when, because I wanted to relive the sublime experience I had at the O2 in July. But arrive the day, I'm aware the heat's with the Albert Hall, there's no fun boat trip full of forum members, frenzied at ending a 15 year wait to see the great man, ('cos they all did that in July), and I'm thinking, oh well it's still Leonard.
And I'm slightly down 'cos the place hasn't sold out (like last night), and thousands of upper tier seats are visibly empty at the back, so there isn't the buzz you get when a place is completely full. . . it's like a bulb lit to 90 percent, it's never going to shine at full brightness. And surely, I think, the keen crowd was last night, 'cos they bought tickets first, so I expect a less than enthusiastic crowd. . . And that's sort of how it is, at first.
But who cares about the crowd, it's Leonard. . . and even though his voice is showing more wear in the middle register than in July, the lower register still hits the spot. And all the passion and devotion to entertaining the crowd you could ever expect from anyone, let alone a man with so many dates behind him, is all still there.
And then we're seven songs in, or so, and he sings "Who by fire" and he punches my emotional gut, the way he did in July. His voice has warmed up by now, and he's asking us all how we think we're going to die, and the sheer intensity of it just gets to me ( 'cos we all know people who are close to death, and we all know we're going to die).
And now I'm emotionally wraught, and Leonard unleashes the ghost of Janis Joplin "giving me head on the unmade bed" on the big barn of the O2, as he crooks the forefinger of his left hand and calls back her ghost "You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception." And I'm in tears again, and I'm really glad I came to the concert, because Leonard really knows how to wake you up from the torpor of the everyday, and give you something special to think about and remember. If there was a song to warm the cockles of hearts of concertgoers at London's ugliest Cohen concert (the one in the barn that couldn't sell out), this song was oh-so-perfect: "Well never mind, we are ugly but we have the music!"
The tweaking of the jokes, at the tail end of pleasingly joky Tower of Song, (in which Leonard seemed to call on the Webb sisters to keep on singing to him until death) gave the song a new and more serious resonance, than before, with "de do dum dum" no longer asserted as the "meaning of life," allowing Leonard to maintain a continuous connection of real frisson with the Web sisters, both erotic and paternalistic.
Suzanne was expertly performed, and riotously embraced by the crowd, Leonard at 100 percent. The transition to the Partisan was hugely effective, with the exotic otherness of the Partisan strongly signalled by Javier Mas' nimble fingers strumming sweet strings. The Partisan, which I had not yet heard this tour, carried me away on it's river of yearning ("through the graves the wind is blowing") and I was really moved, in the way the best music is moving, even when the singer is singing about war in French, which I can't understand.
Though Leonard has cut out most of the charming and generous namechecking of the band, he did in phase one of the tour (now the namechecks come at the end of each of the sets, instead of dotted here there and everywhere), he still gives each band member distinct spotlights, and Sharon Robinson's delivery of Boogie Street was one such moment in the sun. She was luminous delivering that song, all by herself (Leonard silent in darkness), building it in intensity, so that to me the song sounded completely new, and I never thought it sounded so good and so warm.
Unlike Sharon, the Webb sisters may not have written "If it be your will," but in my mind, they have come to own it, as their beatific ethereal voices filled the cavernous O2, and transformed it into a giant church, where approximately 18,000 people could could join in their prayer for a better and longer life "if it be your will."
Leonard sang and played long and hard tonight, (as well as languorously reciting chosen verses of his wonderful poem, Thousand Kisses Deep - resonant as ever) and it wasn't until gone 11pm that he "tried to leave" us, and finally succeeded. As I rushed out into the cold air surrounding the O2, I blanketed myself with thoughts of the Chelsea Hotel, and the warmth of heaving bodies. . .
Manchester, June 18 2008
Manchester, June 19 2008
London O2, July 17 2008
London O2, November 14 2008
Royal Albert Hall, November 17 2008
Mercedes Benz World, Weybridge, July 11 2009